Blissfully Safe

Courtesy Fassmer

Published Mar 13, 2024 2:35 PM by Pat Zeitler

(Article originally published in Jan/Feb 2024 edition.)


"The customer is always right” is an unwritten rule in the business world, but when it comes to the passenger vessel industry, it might just as well be “The passenger is always safe.” 

Those of us who have spent a career in the commercial maritime sector may not have a true appreciation for the nuances of ensuring passenger safety. Commercial vessels have no passengers – only crew, and every one of them is focused on safety as a paramount goal and trained to respond accordingly in emergency situations.

It’s a different dynamic for passenger vessels. Passengers have a carefree mentality. They’re on vacation. Social events, cocktail hours, sightseeing, getting the perfect selfie, enjoying every minute of their voyage is what’s on the mind of passengers. They can’t be expected to assist in times of emergency, and so their safety and personal security become the primary focus of the crew.

 From the perspective of passenger vessel operators, any abnormal situation can present a tough row to hoe considering the crew-to-passenger ratio can be 3:1 on cruise ships and over 25:1 on ferries and day boats. Many passengers, particularly those on cruise ships, act as though they can abdicate the burden of their own safety to the vessel management and crew.  

Safety at Sea

Cruise lines understand exactly what’s required to keep passengers in a state of blissful relaxation while at sea. Companies like Royal Caribbean work closely with organizations like the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and the Cruise Safety and Sustainability Forum (CSSF). 

CLIA is the world’s largest cruise line association, comprised of 50-plus cruise lines and representing approximately 95 percent of the world’s ocean-going cruise line capacity. It’s the industry’s most influential advocate to the IMO while CSSF includes not only ship operators but also shipyards and classification societies.

Royal Caribbean’s Associate Vice President of Maritime Compliance & Regulatory Affairs, Randy Jenkins, is Chair of CLIA’s Safety Committee. He says participation in CLIA’s seminars and forums gives us “a direct role in shaping safety standards and keeping the safety of our guests and crew at the forefront of everything we do.” Working together with international associates on safety policies is essential to having effective IMO outputs, resulting in practical and effective safety standards.

Constant innovation and research are required for passenger safety, and current innovations are taking the form of vessel automation throughout the safety system infrastructure. Royal Caribbean’s latest contribution to vessel automation is the onboard evacuation control center. In layman’s terms, this is a physically separate system that’s integrated with the Safety Command Center on the bridge, providing industry-leading instrumentation for the crew to effectively manage a mass evacuation event. 

Personal Safety Equipment

Passenger vessels are doing a lot of things right including teaming up with industry specialists when it comes to passengers’ personal safety equipment. A century removed from the RMS Titanic, when the concept of survival technology barely existed, today’s passengers are very aware of this subject, demanding safety but seldom thinking about the infrastructure supporting it.  

When it comes to survival technology, Survitec is one of the pioneers. What began in 1920 in a Surrey, England garden shed now supplies survival equipment throughout the defense, energy, aerospace and maritime industries. Survitec customers, including the passenger vessel industry, can depend on Survitec’s global network of over 3,000 people spanning 96 countries. 

The company is keen to contribute advancements in safety and sees a future “where cruise and passenger ship safety systems become digitally managed and highly automated,” states Richard McCormick, Commercial Director-AES & MES, at Survitec. A great example of automation meeting the safety industry is Survitec’s Seahaven, the world’s largest inflatable lifeboat, designed to evacuate 1,060 people in less than 22 minutes. This highly automated lifeboat is quasi-autonomous, requiring only the push of a button to activate.

Automation & Digitalization

The concept of passenger safety is ingrained in the Fassmer organization since its founding by Johannes Fassmer in 1850. Initially a one-man boat-building operation, Johannes focused on small wooden flat-bottom boats such as skiffs and lifeboats as well as specialty builds for local customers. 

Now in its fifth generation, Fassmer is still family-owned and true to its original purpose of “making shipping safer for both crews and passengers” by building lifeboats, rescue boats, davits and other deck equipment such as winches and hooks. The Fassmer brand is seen aboard every vessel type from super yachts, tankers and container vessels to cruise ships with a client list that includes the six U.S. state maritime academies, Royal Caribbean and MSC. 

Vessel owners who partner with Fassmer have their equipment serviced and maintained and their crews trained by Fassmer, ensuring that the optimal lifeboat system is in place and that the davit, lifeboat and ever-important hook are monitored 24/7 via a digital monitoring system. Automation and digitalization are essential in providing the safest and most reliable mode of vessel abandonment in the event of a disaster.

The Fassmer group of companies includes a global network of service providers, an in-house research and development team and subsidiary Fassmer Technical Products, which provides retrofits, upgrades and refurbishments. And while most passengers are likely not familiar with what Fassmer does to ensure their safety, those in the maritime business know that, when it comes to safety at sea, Fassmer is a leading player. 

Lifejackets & More

Another leading player in ensuring safety at sea is Piraeus-based LALIZAS.

Having sold millions of lifejackets since its founding in 1982, one could argue that LALIZAS has done as much for safety at sea as any manufacturer associated with the maritime industry. In the early years its founder, Stavros Lalizas, a Greek sailing champion, set up shop in his house to produce custom-made lifejackets for pleasure boaters, specifically his associates in the sailing community.

As his name became a regional synonym for personal safety throughout the sailing community, his operation began to grow. Within three years he upgraded from working out of his home to a 15-employee factory capable of small-scale mass production of 150 different product codes.

Working through organizational growing pains, including a fire that nearly bankrupted the company, LALIZAS sailed into the early 2000s with enough commercial demand to establish logistic hubs in China and Belgium. Today, its service and product lines include lifejackets, life rafts, full firefighting ensembles as well as hoses and nozzles.

The company’s motto is, appropriately, “Safety is not just a product, it is an ongoing process!” It’s a winning philosophy and customers love it. Noticing trends is a part of the philosophy, and one recent trend observed is the uptick in fire accidents aboard vessels.   

LALIZAS provides fire suits meeting the regulatory standards of heat protection and vapor resistance required for roll-on roll-off (RORO) vessels, the type most often carrying EVs powered by lithium-ion batteries, a suspected root cause of the uptick in vessel fires. Passenger vessel owners would do well to take notice of trends like this, especially those who are considering electric-powered systems.  

In addition to the high quality of its lifesaving equipment, LALIZAS stresses the importance of proper maintenance and service of the equipment in order to keep everyone safe. Shipowners and ship management companies must ensure that they work with trusted and authorized service stations.

In this regard, LALIZAS has the required technical resources and specialized expertise to properly advise shipowners and management companies on how to keep their vessels protected and in compliance with regulations. This is achieved through its Fire, Safety and Rescue (FSR) service, which is globally available in all key ports.

Another recently introduced service provided by LALIZAS is the Fast and Independent Life Raft Exchange service (F&I). F&I is a unique proposal for a simple and fast life raft exchange with no contract and no commitment from the ship management/owner’s side while providing life raft compliance as a service. 

Blissfully Safe

The whole point of taking a cruise is to get away. It’s meant to be a time of relaxation and recuperation for the paying customer. To accommodate this, cruise ship operators work together to set realistic and practical safety standards.

Survitec’s McCormick says, “We see a future where cruise and passenger ship safety systems become digitally managed and highly automated,” a sentiment that is fast gaining consensus in the industry. Today’s cruisers demand safety but are not concerned with the hours of R&D, safety committees, tracking indicators or any of the minutia that goes into innovating and building fail-safe systems.

They’re on vacation, and advances in technology – like automation and digital monitoring systems – help ensure it’s a blissfully safe one. 

Commercial diver Pat Zeitler works for the Ocean Corporation.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.